Santos Awarded Nobel after Colombia Narrowly Misses True Peace

A Comprehensive Look at las FARC and the Failed Peace Deal

Illustrator: Taylor Daniels

Illustrator: Taylor Daniels

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos received his first Nobel Peace Prize this month, just days after his referendum intended to strike a peace treaty with the Colombian terrorist group, las FARC, was voted down with a margin of less than 1 percent. Colombia has been engaged a civil war with las FARC and related terrorist groups for 52 years, the longest running civil war in modern international history. The public has received Santos’ Nobel Peace Prize, awarded for his efforts towards ending the bloody conflict, in various ways.

Many believe that Santos’ efforts to broker a peace deal are well-deserving of the prize, while others argue that his famous deal toes a line that should not be crossed: negotiating with terrorists. Another mindset argues that, while Santos’ Nobel Prize will temporarily draw much-needed attention to Colombia’s conflict, the prize will later hurt the country by giving the false impression that peace was actually achieved. In order to understand why Santos’ Nobel is under so much scrutiny, however, one must take a look at the history of las FARC, the failed peace deal, and the opposition parties involved.

Such a macabre history could easily lead one to believe that a peace deal with las FARC would be against human rights and morality.

In 1964, the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) formed las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia (las FARC) with the intention of convincing the Colombian government to address the needs of the country’s impoverished rural population. However, what started out as a minor extremist faction soon escalated into a full-blown terrorist group when, at odds with the Colombian government, las FARC began kidnapping elite persons for ransom in order to fund their growing guerrilla army. Later, las FARC turned to drug trafficking for funds. Today, over 7,000 Colombian citizens have been engulfed into las FARC, either by bloodline or kidnapping, while the group peaked in size in 2007 at nearly 18,000 members. Over these 52 years, las FARC has killed an unknown number of people. In the wake of las FARC, various other terrorist groups have formed, including militant groups along the lines of Death the Kidnappers (MAS) and United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which have killed large numbers of innocents who they masquerade as las FARC members in order to raise morale and collect rewards.

Such a macabre history could easily lead one to believe that a peace deal with las FARC would be against human rights and morality. However, in light of las FARC’s incredible power and the human casualties that they have amassed throughout the years, the line becomes blurry, as it is clear that continued war is not in the country’s best interest. What’s more, one must keep in mind that most of the members of las FARC were indoctrinated into the group either by upbringing or kidnapping; while the war crimes they have committed were conscious choices, their initial allegiance was not.

But in practice, Santos’s peace prize appears to be a Band-Aid on a gaping wound: well-intended but insufficient.

One of the most influential political actors in the country, ex-President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, was a major opponent of the deal. His campaign against the treaty was perhaps the deciding factor in the veto; he cited leniency on war criminals as his leading qualm with the treaty. Similarly, most citizens who vetoed the peace deal did so because they perceived the deal to be too lenient toward the terrorists. The two most despised clauses included an agreement to cede 10 of Colombia’s 102 congressional seats to las FARC and an “effective privation of liberty” for war criminals (a vague term meaning lower level crimes would be met with “effective restriction of liberty” rather than prison). Although Uribe congratulated Santos on his Nobel, it is doubtful that he and his fellow ‘No’ campaigners agree with the Nobel Foundation’s choice to award his opponent for his efforts.

In theory, Santos’s Nobel should signal to Colombian citizens that their president’s actions were admirable, hopefully encouraging compliance with any future peace deals (although las FARC has made clear that they do not intend to renegotiate, at least not anytime soon). But in practice, Santos’s peace prize appears to be a Band-Aid on a gaping wound: well-intended but insufficient. While Santos’s prize will undoubtedly inspire him and succeeding presidents to continue to work towards peace with las FARC, it also serves as a bleak symbol of what might have been–a prize clearly intended to be awarded to a newly peaceful Colombia that has instead chosen to return to war.